Meeting the challenge: Project ECHO trains clinicians to treat within their communities

Producer Ned Judge filming at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. (Courtesy of Project Echo)

For his latest project, filmmaker Ben Daitz was able to travel to India.

The trip was needed to fully round out the documentary, “Project Echo: A Democracy of Knowledge.”

The documentary will air at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, on NMPBS, channel 5.1.

“We started working on the film around this time last year,” he says. “We had done some preliminary shooting over the course of the previous year. Not knowing if we’d get the funding.”

Daitz and Ned Judge worked on the film together.

“Project Echo: A Democracy of Knowledge” tells the story of one of the most innovative and far-reaching health initiatives on our planet, which is free for all to use.

It is narrated by actor Peter Coyote.

Project ECHO began in 2003 at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, developed to meet the challenge of an epidemic of hepatitis C, an epidemic caused by heroin addiction. At that time, one rural New Mexico county had the highest per capita opiate overdose death rate in the country.

Project ECHO uses a visually interactive forum, Zoom-like technology, to train primary care clinicians to treat hepatitis C and opiate addiction in their own communities, rather than refer them for distant and costly specialty care in Albuquerque.

The model worked for treating hepatitis C, and it has now been used successfully around the world to treat more than 70 different chronic diseases and conditions.

Medical specialists teach rural health care providers using simple, inexpensive technology. The practitioners in turn can treat thousands more people. It’s a force multiplier that has increased access to education, knowledge, and specialty care for millions of rural and underserved people, and the practitioners who care for them.

Ben Daitz

Daitz says the film follows ECHO’s development and the reach of its programs through the stories of patients and practitioners.

Deep in the Missouri Ozarks, ECHO’s helped with early diagnosis and treatment of children with autism.

In India, with the highest tuberculosis burden in the world, ECHO helps with case finding and treatment; with screening for cancer in the foothills of the Himalayas; and teaching rural school teachers how to better teach math and science.

In a prison in New Mexico, inmates run a weekly peer support ECHO conference to educate others about hepatitis C, HIV, and other chronic illnesses.

“In many ways, it’s not a hard story to tell because it makes sense,” Daitz says. “It’s one of the best health initiatives on the planet. It’s free and you have to invest some time and a computer.”

Daitz had worked on a film project in 2005 about the early days of Project ECHO.

“I had been involved in teaching at UNM,” he says. “I know a lot about the program and I was trying to find the best stories to help tell how important this initiative is.”


SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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